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Published Oct. 27, 2008

Robert Frank, a senior writer for the Wall Street Journaland the author of Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, recently updated his observations on the rich with data from a new study:

In Richistan, I wrote about a new political divide emerging among the wealthy. While most Lower Richistanis ($1-million to $10-million in net worth) were voting Republican, most Middle and Upper Richistanis (those worth $10-million-plus and $100-million-plus) were voting Democrat.

Lower Richistanis tended to vote almost exclusively based on taxes. But Upper Richistanis placed a higher priority on longer-term societal issues like health care, the environment and education, which are traditional Democrat issues.

According to a new survey by Prince & Associates, voters worth $1-million to $10-million are favoring Sen. John McCain, while voters worth $30-million or more are favoring Sen. Barack Obama. The survey of 493 families showed:

More than three-quarters of those worth $1-million to $10-million plan to vote for McCain. Only 15 percent plan to vote for Obama (the rest are undecided). Of those worth more than $30-million, two-thirds support Obama, while one-third support McCain.

The reason? Taxes.

Among Lower Richistanis, 88 percent cited tax policies as being "important" in making their decision.

Among the Upper Richistanis supporting Obama, tax policies ranked last, with only 16 percent citing them as important. "Social issues" ranked first, with "policies dealing with wars" ranking second (67 percent) and Supreme Court nominations and health care issues ranking next.

Of course, in today's populist politics, the only thing worse than being the candidate of the wealthy is being the candidate of the superwealthy. You can bet this is one poll that neither candidate will repeat on the campaign trail.

Freakonomists and the crisis

Even the Freakonomics guys were baffled enough by the financial crisis to ask for help in understanding it. So one of them asked a couple of economist/professor colleagues to explain it - and they did, in some of the clearest language used to date. Entitled "Everything You Need to Know About the Financial Crisis," their summary can be found by going to and searching for that phrase.

Debt not just about money

Responding to the credit and confidence crisis, Margaret Atwood, author of Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, wrote an essay in the New York Times saying that "debt - who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid - is a subject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fairness, a sense that is embedded in all of our exchanges with our fellow human beings."

She added: "The version of the Lord's Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.' In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for 'debt' and the word for 'sin' are the same. And although many people assume that 'debts' in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don't pay back what's owed, you cause harm to others."

A ceiling for top salaries

Should banks that take government bailouts be forced to limit how much their top executives make? The German government says yes, emphatically and specifically. The Wall Street Journal reports that the German Cabinet imposed an annual salary cap of $670,000 on such bankers.

A 106-year-old nun for Obama

The BBC reports that Sister Cecilia Gaudette, a 106-year-old American nun living in a convent in Rome, has registered to vote and says she will vote for Sen. Barack Obama. The nun last voted in 1952 - for Dwight Eisenhower. Although hard of hearing, she keeps herself informed by reading newspapers and watching TV at the convent. "I'm encouraged by Sen. Obama," she says. "I've never met him, but he seems to be a good man with a good private life. That's the first thing. Then he must be able to govern."

Bono to write for New York Times

Bono, the poverty-fighting front man of U2, will write between six and 10 op-ed pieces for the New York Times next year, editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal told a Columbia journalism class last week. Bono will muse on Africa, poverty, and the music of Frank Sinatra.

Last 'Titanic' survivor sells mementos to pay nursing fees

When 2-month-old Millvina Dean, below in 1998, arrived in New York after surviving the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, city residents gave her family a suitcase full of donated clothing to help rebuild their life. Now, 96 years later, that gift is helping the world's last Titanic survivor live out her old age in Southampton, England. Dean sold the small wicker suitcase, left, along with other Titanic mementos, at auction recently to help pay her nursing home fees. The sale raised $53,906; the suitcase alone sold for $18,650. Dean remembers nothing of the disaster. Her mother and brother were among 706 people who were rescued; her father was among more than 1,500 who died. The last American to have escaped the sinking was Lillian Asplund, who died in 2006 at the age of 99.